One of the most interesting books published by IVP in the window where I wasn’t working there is this one, Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts. This is a comprehensive and fascinating look at what has come to be known as the complementarian/egalitarian divide, and Bartlett makes use of his skills as a QC (for my American friends, that’s like a super attorney) to sift through the textual and theological issues at hand.
Whilst this might seem a relatively long and intimidating book (it’s a 400+ page hardback), it is actually extraordinarily readable. Indeed, this is one reason I’m making this review relatively short – Men and Women in Christ is a superbly readable book about an issue that every leader in a church context should be engaging with. I found Bartlett fair and even-handed, and open to changing his own mind. That, perhaps, is one of the most enduring aspects of this book in my own reading of it.
Bartlett tracks the debate through all the perennial ‘tricky texts’, but starts in Genesis. He is quick to note that “men and women are different“, but that this difference does not lead to what some might think it does. With this in mind, his observations about power are worth noting: “we may notice that in church history the misuse of coercive power has gone far beyond the domestic sphere, with dreadful results… Whenever the church has acquired worldly power, it has been intoxicated by it“. In this, though it is by no means the focus of this book, I am soberly reminded of the promise of the serpent to Eve and Adam, and the fact that as heirs of the promise and the curse all humanity is susceptible to the intoxication of power. Thus Bartlett notes, in what I hope would be a statement that anyone could agree with, that “in Christian relationships among men and women mutual submission is the norm, exclusion is an exceptional last resort, and forcible coercion is never authorized“.
I noted in my review of Pen Wilcock’s disappointing Equality is Biblical and Lucy Peppiatt’s excellent Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women that ultimately what matters is what the BIble actually says. Bartlett is relatively unflinching in his exegesis, with one particularly poignant note about the glaring omission of 1 Corinthians 7 in many complementarian arguments. However, to read Bartlett as being thoroughgoingly egalitarian would be to miss his nuance and misrepresent his position. Indeed, he notes that “neither side in the debate is in a position to claim that it has all the good arguments“, this observation coming in a discussion of tricky texts in 1 Timothy and Titus, but applying to the exegetical and hermeneutical debate overall.
I thoroughly recommend this book. I think Bartlett fairly represents both ‘sides’ of a debate in which there is often more heat than light. I recognised both my own present egalitarianism, and also my former complementarianism, and felt that friends and family from different perspectives would be able to acknowledge that Bartlett has represented them well. That alone – regardless of the superb summing up, study and observations Bartlett marshals – make this book worth reading. It will be particularly useful for Christian leaders, but also for anyone seeking to understand different perspectives within the body of Christ.